By Penelope Poole
The jet lands on your hometown tarmac after a monumentally life-changing several weeks journey in South America.
True to your adventurous spirit, you’ve capped your already extraordinary travel with 10 days in the Peruvian jungle drinking Ayahuasca, guided by a vetted curandero in a highly reputable retreat center.
The retreat was incredible! OMG, I’ve healed and learned so much about myself. Your journal overflows with prolific notes, poems, and inspired sketches. And you’re thinking about all of the awesome new friends you’ve made from ceremony. You’re now ready to return to your old life, but complete with a contagious enthusiasm that will change the interactions with everyone you’ve ever known and all the new people you will meet … for the better.
Whoa! Hold on a sec. That might be easier said than done...
The post Ayahuasca integration process, say the sages, is equally as important as to what happens in the maloka. In fact, studious aftercare is critical for reintegration after drinking Ayahuasca on retreat. The medicine will keep showing us possibilities long after the last ceremonial candle is extinguished and the shaman sleeps.
Here are some ways to ensure enduring benefits and lessons from an Ayahuasca retreat, even months after the fact, by consciously integrating our new wise and shiny selves with our erstwhile patterns long after the entheo-hallucinogen has worn off.
In the maloka, the effects of Ayahuasca may last several hours, but most people who go on a conscious retreat know that the work has just begun.
Engage a professional to help you unpack
You can certainly use your regular therapist, but someone who understands this particular plant medicine will provide better counsel. Not all centers offer such a service, but in recent years, the need for post-retreat counseling has become obvious to all who walk in the Ayahuasca world.
If you elect to not engage some kind of help to unpack your bag full of Aya-facilitated self-revelations, both the good and the hard, chances are your suitcase may sit untouched, still laden with beautiful garments you’ve forgotten to wear. While post-retreat long term effects are often remarkably positive (people report spontaneously quitting smoking and drinking or other addictions), some are known to fall into post-retreat depression because nothing seems to have changed in the world they’ve rejoined.
Ask for recommendations for integration specialists at your retreat.
Change something in your previous routine
You’re not the same person you were when you left, but you are in the same body, returning to the same norms. When you return home, it’s easy to fall into comfortable patterns when the scenery hasn’t changed.
A vast number of first-time Ayahuasca drinkers report experiencing a major spiritual awakening with the medicine. This can translate into a sense of aloneness after leaving the maloka.
Some useful strategies to avoid self-imposed isolation include: borrow/adopt a dog to run the trails; join a spiritual community; be aware if you’re spending ‘too much’ time in your head, then consciously get back into the world; focus on the simple pleasures like gardening and nutritious food.
Have a daily meditation practice
To fully integrate the teachings of the medicine and support your body, mind, and spirit, be sure to have a spiritual practice. Daily meditation, yoga or both are encouraged for at least two weeks after your closing ceremony. Some retreatants also incorporate breathwork into their post-retreat practice.
Take care of your mind, body and spirit
Follow the prescribed diet, which depending on the type of retreat you participated in, means no pork, alcohol, and possibly sex. Eat fresh food, rest appropriately, exercise, and spend as much time as possible in nature, particularly if you live in a city.
All these good habits will help you maintain a higher level of awareness in everyday life and over the next twelve months.
Use a buddy to help you get through the first month
Find a phone pal or Facebook friend from your retreat and plan weekly check-ins. Sharing similar experiences can create space for continued healing and deepening friendships.
If you participated in a full dieta with major food restrictions, your buddy can also help keep you on track of your healthy diet and resist temptations around your 30-day post-dieta commitment to sobriety and chastity.
Keep up your research post-ceremony
So much is being written, filmed and podcasted about on the topic of plant medicine and ayahuasca experiences these days it’s almost impossible to keep up. If you haven’t already read Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind, there’s no better time to tuck into that tome than on your post-retreat evenings and weekends. Podcasters who're passionate about plant medicine and psychedelics include: Lorna Liana, Timothy Ferriss, Aubrey Marcus, and Kyle Thierman. YouTube, Medium and Erowid are crammed with constantly freshening information about how the Ayahuasca culture is exploding. Compare notes with writers and filmmakers who are chronicling the global Ayahuasca visions and stories.
And if that's not enough, and to go even deeper, Kaphi is an Ayahuasca learning hub, and MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) offer solid curated articles, as does ICEERS, the non-profit that organizes the World Ayahuasca Conference.
Be religious about journaling
Employ a guided journaling technique to ensure you capture the day and whatever comes up. A practice that may also help your integration process is to reflect back on your in-ceremony notes you took of the whole experience.
Remember that everyone’s reintegration process is as unique as their fingerprint
The important things to chisel, tattoo, brand, or crop circle into your memory are that:
- You did something extraordinary, even though it scared you.
- You’ve gained new perspectives from your ceremony experiences.
- You committed to and invested in your own self-worth and did the hard work.
- You bravely faced the hidden things that have been blocking your progress.
- The real you is freaking awesome.
Penelope is a multi-awarded South African/Canadian writer, researcher, communications strategist, and mother of four grown children. She spent a decade as a print journalist, lived and worked 16 countries, and has devoted much of her career to working with international agencies to help alleviate poverty in the developing world, with the longest stretches in Afghanistan, the Philippines, and most recently Peru, where she has participated in several dozen Ayahuasca ceremonies and retreats. Her eldest daughter Athena is an experienced ayahuasquera.